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Icelandic data centers, chaos theory and Chernobyl
Ephemeral Reviews, Essays and Opinions s°01.ep15 - 2019.11.12
Facebook’s new branding is a recognition of its conglomerate status: there’s now a distinction between Facebook the product and Facebook the company (of which Facebook the product is just one of the components alongside WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus VR…) Link (T)
Tech companies are frequently so big now that their emerging lines of business get lost in the earnings reports. Some of them would surely be IPOable (the cut: around $100m in annual revenue) on a stand-alone basis. 2 cases in point from the last round of financial reports: Uber Freight brought in $218m in the last quarter; Cash, an aptly-named P2P payment app created by Square, brought in $307m (half from the bitcoin buying it enables!). (T)
Iceland is the perfect place to mine Bitcoins: affordable energy thanks to geothermal resources and very cold weather to cool down server farms. Iceland is also the most peaceful country in the world, a nation with almost no major crime in its history. But mysterious and scary gangs of thieves are now targeting Icelandic data centers robbing millions of euros of hardware with their even more precious loads of virtual money. Link (S)
Some say with cruelty when “US innovates, China is copying and Europe is regulating”. What about Africa? Well, they copy Europe and partner with China to innovate like the US. Link (S)
The definitive guide of online laugh. LOL, haha, hehe, ha, lmao, done right. Link (S)
Karl Stevens for The New Yorker (S)
Last month I had the pleasure to read Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick. This is an old book - published in 1987 - about the rise of chaos theory in the 1960s and 1970s, through the portraits of some of its most prominent scientists. The gist of this discipline concerned with dynamical systems: under seeming randomness may lie complex forms of order.
That’s the most I could summarize of the core explanation of what chaos theory covers, because, even if it’s a popular science book, it’s pretty tough to follow at times. In the end, what I found most fascinating about chaos theory is not the underlying discoveries, but rather the shifts in approaches that led to them.
The first insight is that outdated theories may still be inspiring. A few of the scientists depicted in the book read articles or held old copies of books penned by obscure and long-forgotten scientists. For instance, did you know that Goethe was the author of a theory of colors?
The second one is that there’s no such thing as a trivial scientific object or experiment. Many of the discoveries told were derived from the study of mundane things (such as the formation of clouds, when in physical sciences only extremely big or extremely small objects were deemed noble enough). Or by refining experiments that academic doxa held as solved and uninteresting.
The third insight is the importance of visual representation. Chaos theorists leveraged the emerging computers, for calculations of course, but maybe even more for the accompanying screens: they defied common mathematical wisdom that written proofs were the only way to advance the field. Relying on visual representation, they made mathematics an experimental science - and encroached on art with objects such as fractals.
James Gleick’s book proclaimed that chaos theory was the third main scientific revolution of the 20th century after relativity and quantum mechanics, but reading it 3 decades later, one necessarily wonders: Where has the science of chaos gone?
The only popular figure left is pretty cliché: the butterfly effect. Which is sad because the concept it is related to, the “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”, is philosophically puzzling: does it highlight our freedom (looking forward, the small differences you make today may lead to largely different outcomes) or does it highlight our determinism (looking backward, the small things of the past may still haunt us)?
Chaos theory was the child of computers and interdisciplinary thinking, with scientists from widely different fields uncovering common patterns behind the phenomena they studied. Needless to say, computers have enjoyed exponential progress since, but it seems to me like interdisciplinary approaches have not really expanded - or just reappear periodically.
That’s a pity, since we would be well advised to seek inspiration from chaos theory, whether from its fresh way to reassess old problems or from its openness to transcend scientific boundaries. Because from socio-economic interdependencies to our ecological predicament, one thing is sure: our world is only growing more complex - and more chaotic.
Since Karl Lagerfeld passed away last February, the fashion industry is in mourning. The hottest news this year: Albert Elbaz’s come back? Virgil Abloh’s collaboration with Ikea? Thanks (fashion) god, there is still room for young, independent and brilliant designers. Christopher John Rogers, a 25 years old wunderkind born in Baton Rouge, dresses Cardi B and Michelle Obama and even shows self-derision. Link (S)
One of my key learnings from the impressive HBO miniseries Chernobyl is that - tepid spoiler alert - the nuclear plant was delivered 9 months in advance, making it the most dangerous case of confusion between speed and haste ever in human history. But when it comes to 5G networks, it looks more like the rest of the world is really late and China just taking the lead over Europe and the US rolling out its first services 5 months before its initial plan. Link (S)
Is this the future we were looking for? OnMyWay promises its driving users a few cents (in the form of discounts) for each kilometer non texting. Link (T)
Is this the future we were looking for (again)? It’s all in the title: “Remote-controlled Salmon Farms to Operate Off Norway in 2020”. Link (T)
Viva Digital Africa! (S)
A testament to the progress that’s been made in the consideration of diversity issues within digital services… and also that it’s a never-ending fight: Apple just introduced non-binary emojis - and they’re already criticized for not catering to everyone’s identity. Link (T)
The previous industrial revolution brought an innovation that changed our lives forever: frozen food. And that was thanks to a forgotten man, Charles Birdseye’s curiosity, relentless experimentalism and entrepreneurial spirit. Link (S)
Is Martin Scorsese a super villain? In the New York Times he explains why super heroes are his enemies: they endanger cinema as an art and big franchises take no risk and offer experiences closer to theme parks than to movies. In your face Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America. Link (S)
We celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall last week. In a rare and short interview for Der Spiegel, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbatchev explains how “it was impossible to go on living like before”. Link (S)
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Edited by Stéphane Distinguin & Tom Morisse
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